Sunday, 5 August 2007

foot and mouth disease

With all the focus on foot and mouth disease it is worth stressing that no human has ever died of foot and mouth, indeed it isn't usually fatal to animals. The disease itself produces flu-like symptoms and is not a killer. The problem in our country is the market value of the animals. They are worth much less and have lower yields with foot and mouth. If you were to consider your animals as part of your family then killng (or 'culling') wouldn't be an option. After all you wouldn't kill your mother if she contracted flu in case she might spread the disease.

There are whole countries in the world where foot and mouth, like flu, is rampant and nothing at all is done about it. East Africa's cattle-raising Maasai people don't kill their infected cattle. For them, foot-and-mouth disease has almost become a part of everyday life -- it's so common they refer to it using the same word they use for the common cold: oloirobi. It occurs almost every rainy season with minimal loss of life.

This is the crucial difference between the strictly commercial approach to livestock and the Maasai approach, which is far more complex and incorporates both modern and traditional husbandry techniques. Because the disease occurs infrequently in Europe, the farmers' response is to quickly eliminate infection by killing the infected animals and so avoid long-term financial losses caused by public fears of tainted meat.
Modern agricultural systems are clearly extremely vulnerable to such outbreaks of disease, a fact exacerbated by liberalised trade and the relentless economic pressure on farmers.

The Maasai people, however, consider their cattle as more than simply financial assets -- a man and his herd are bound together in relationship defined by centuries of culture and survival in a harsh environment, and tempered by the changes brought about by European influences.

The Maasai have a saying, 'Meeki Lenkaina ilala-lenyana', which translates as 'An elephant is never burdened by its tusks'. In the same way, the Maasai have traditionally never been burdened by the ecosystem on which they live. Nor by the myriad diseases that are part of their world.

This doesn't mean that Maasai communities are passive in the face of illness or injury- when a Maasai cow, sheep or goat exhibits the symptoms of foot-and-mouth disease -- fever and painfully ulcerated soft tissue -- they are treated with a paste made of cattle urine, dried bark from the olchilhili tree and the leaves of the alaiskirai and oloiyapasei bushes.

The mixture is not a cure for the disease, but it helps to relieve pain and aid the recovery. After being quarantined for up to a month, the animal is returned to the field.

The funeral pyres of countless livestock darkend Britain's skies, and we could do well to ponder what we as a nation have inflicted on our domestic animals. Foot and Mouth disease and BSE are not natural disasters but come as a direct consequence of a disregard for the intimate relationships existing between soil, plant, animal and the whole of nature.

Sir Albert Howard working in India during the 1920's experienced how important healthy humus-rich soil is for plant and animal health. In his book "Farming & Gardening for Health or Disease", he showed how, through caring for livestock in the best possible way, providing them with healthy, natural food grown on the farm and without using any artificial fertilisers, his animals could be resistant to many of the prevalent diseases including Foot and Mouth. Indeed, so convinced was he of their resilience and health that he allowed his animals to come into contact with infected animals and contaminated pasture. This experiment was repeated 13 years running during which time none of his animals became infected. In his own words " This long experience of foot and mouth suggests that an important factor in the prevention of animal disease is food from humus filled soil."

According to the use of homeopathic Borax 30C was used with some considerable success during the 1967 outbreak. Applied as drops in the drinking water it helped prevent many farms becoming infected. Its specific action as a remedy is to encourage the excretion of poisons in sores and ulcers and strengthen the mucus forming glands. The recommendation is 5ml in drinking water trough daily for three days and then twice weekly for the duration of the outbreak.

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